“Iowa needs schools as diverse as the needs of its students and that’s exactly what this law aims to deliver,” Reynolds said.
There are two public charter schools in Iowa today. Under the new law, groups that hope to start a charter school may apply to the State Board of Education. If state officials grant the charter, taxpayer funding for Iowa students in public districts who enroll in the charter would shift over to the charter.
“Creating an environment in Iowa that encourages alternative educational opportunities for those who need them and it doesn’t undermine the traditional public school system,” Reynolds said. “It strives to improve the entire educational system.”
Under current law, school districts must sign off on creation of a charter school in their area. That’s not required in the new law and critics say there will not be enough oversight of how tax dollars are spent in charter schools.
Reynolds held a bill signing ceremony at Starts Right Here in Des Moines, a youth program started by rapped Will Keeps. He supports creation of public charter schools and is planning to form a group to seek a charter.
“We see that things are not working well for the kids, so what’s wrong with giving them another opportunity, another chance?” he asked. “I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
Three Des Moines students who’re in the Starts Right Here program say traditional school hasn’t worked well for them, particularly during the pandemic. As the governor finished signing the official copy of the bill, making it law, another student leaned over the microphone to kick off the celebration.
“It starts right here!” she said, and the crowd cheered and applauded.
This charter school bill was among the governor’s priority issues for the 2021 legislative session. Other elements of her education agenda have become law, but a plan to provide state scholarships to students in struggling public schools who enroll in a private schoool stalled in the House.
The head of the Iowa State Education Association calls the charter school law “an unfortunate experiment” that will divert resources from creative and innovative programs in public schools.